The Ladder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two close friends take a walk on the moors and in the midst of debate stumble upon a ladder extending up into the clouds.

Submitted: November 17, 2014

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Submitted: November 17, 2014

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“No, all I’m saying is to just entertain the possibility”

“Yes but, what would be the point if the likelihood is so small there seems no real point in entertaining it?”

Conversation between Victor and Harry had always taken this course. Victor was much more of a dreamer and an expansive thinker whilst Harry, though always well intentioned, struggled to grasp any kind of idea that fell beyond his log2ical reasoning. This contrast in their personalities created a dynamic that often resulted in, not heated, but certainly spirited debates.

Victor was further incensed by Harry’s last comment.

“Yes but then what would be the point in a hypothetical situation? Please, I know it’s a horrible struggle for you but for the briefest of moments, imagine it.”

Harry proceeded to close his eyes in thought. He always had to when creating mental images in his head. It helped him visualise.

“OK, I’m imagining it” He uttered out through his pursed lips and furrowed forehead.

The slightest hint of anticipation could be heard in Victor’s reply,

“Well?”

“And it still seems absolutely ridiculous”

Victor looked away in irritation whilst Harry opened his eyes and threw his arms up.

“What’s the point? It’ll never happen so why should I bother wasting my time in imagining it?”

The question Victor had posed to him had been regarding the possibility of a U.F.O descending from the sky before the pair of them. They were out walking on the moors and the energy resonating from the luscious rolling hills and early autumnal trees would always ignite Victor’s imagination. Unlike Harry, who would consistently grumble at the fact it always seemed to rain when they went for a walk.

Victor shook his head in resignation, once again succumbing to the fact another of his fantastical proposals had reached a dead end in the form of Harry’s stubbornness. U.F.O’s were tame to Victor’s usual crop of wondrous ideas. Just last week he had been showing Harry proposed scientific proof that the ancient Pyramids were used to create wireless electricity. Naturally Harry had scoffed at the idea, even when presented with the facts.

Regardless of their differences, Victor and Harry were the firmest of friends. It had been 12 years since the two had met at the tender age of 8 and they had been inseparable since. For years they had shared adventure after adventure together; sneaking into Harry’s Dad’s liquor cabinet and getting drunk for the first time, Victor shamelessly mocking Harry for not being the first to get a girlfriend, only for Harry to retaliate by hooking up with the same girl a week later at a party. Victor was enraged at the time but within days saw the bond the two had was far more important than a dispute over a girl, especially when they were still only in their first year of secondary school. Never had they grown apart even through the inevitable changes and growth of teenage life.

And yet it had only been in the weeks since Victor’s 20th birthday had they really begun to consider that the end might be near. The reality of adulthood was beginning to rear its ugly head and at some point they would have to independently make their own ways in life. Such was the way with reality that it has the power to tear apart even the strongest of bonds. Victor was off to University whilst Harry was moving to Scotland to start working for his Dad’s business. The summer was drawing to its inevitable close and the leaves on the trees were already beginning to turn a mixture of reds and oranges whilst the sun slipped over the horizon earlier every night that passed.

Neither Victor nor Harry had as of yet really brought up the prospect of their impending departure in conversation but they could both tell what the other was thinking. Soon enough they would have to say goodbye.

 

“You should bother imagining it because it allows us to expand our imagination and accept more wonder into our minds, surely that’s reason enough Harry?” Victor was still persisting but it was more out of habit than actual expectation of a positive reply.

“The last time you persuaded me to ‘expand my mind’ I nearly fell off your roof because I thought it was made of jelly and ice cream.”

Victor sniggered loudly at the memory; he knew introducing Harry to psychedelic mushrooms would have some amusing consequences. Although Harry hardly saw it that way.

Victor stopped laughing when he saw Harry was genuinely annoyed. He patted him on the back but Harry nudged his hand off his shoulder, evidently perturbed.

“You think I’m an ignorant, foolish lout with no depth Victor, well I’m not I tell you, I’ve got as much depth as a…” Harry trailed off, unable to think of anything particularly deep.

“Well?” Victor expectantly enquired, with a hint of a smirk on his face.

“I’m as deep as a well!” Harry exclaimed proudly with a large grin on his face.

“Indeed you are Harry, I’ve no idea why you’re under the impression I would think otherwise” Victor replied with the smirk on his face growing bigger whilst he slapped Harry on the back.

Regardless of how deep Harry may have been or what Victor’s opinion on his intelligence might be their conflicting states of mind contributed a lot to their strong friendship. Harry worked well to keep Victor grounded and not lose himself in his own imagination - or his ego, whilst Victor introduced Harry to concepts and ideas that would otherwise be unbeknownst to him, although with varying results.

They continued on their walk. It was a lovely August day and the sun seemed to melt across the landscape like candle wax and the birdsong drifted into their ears like a half forgotten dream. After wandering without any real direction at all they decided to sit down on an isolated bench to share a cigarette. It was late afternoon and an orange haze had descended on the landscape of rolling fields and distant hills that lay before them. They sat in silence for a few moments, basking in the view and inhaling the smoke and the still air that lay all around them. It was a moment of pure peace where all in the universe slowed to the pace of heartbeat.

It was neither of them that broke the silence. From somewhere before them there came a sound and they both looked up to see where it came from. The sound itself wasn’t an especially remarkable sound; in fact it was wholly unexciting. It sounded merely like something heavy had hit the ground at some pace but it was the fact it came so out of the blue to disrupt such a moment of peace that drew the pairs attention to it. Victor stubbed the cigarette out and they looked at one another without saying a word and started to walk towards where they thought it might have came from.

It sounded like it had come from close by but after walking for several minutes they still had no luck with finding it. They let their instincts take over rather than their logic and as they walked it felt like their feet knew where to go. After passing through a small cluster of trees they came out on to the top of a huge hill that rose majestically above the rest of the landscape. Harry and Victor could see for miles around, the few clouds that were in the sky cast spotted shadows across the golden fields and meadows whilst in the distance they could see a herd of cows grazing in the last snatches of the warm Autumn sun.

So captured by the view all around them, they failed to see the most striking feature that lay before their eyes. Only when a cloud passed over the sun, momentarily bathing them in shade did they focus their attention on the most astounding thing either of them had ever seen before. Right in front of them, clearer than anything, was a ladder reaching right up into the cloud that was obscuring the sun so many thousands of feet above them.

For a full minute neither of them moved at all. It’s hard to say if either of them actually breathed for all their minds could process at that point was the unbelievable sight that lay before their eyes.

Harry was the first to react. “Sweet Jesus, what in the world is that?”

Victor was jerked into reality by this and almost closed his eyes in exasperation.

 “Well it’s quite obviously a ladder Harry”

 “Yes I know it’s a ladder Victor” Harry retorted, placing certain emphasis on the ‘Vic’ part of Victor. “What I mean is how in hell is it standing up? Look! It’s completely rigid and yet…” Harry’s words escaped him as he looked up in wonder at the entire length of the ladder to where it breached the vapour of the cloud above.

“And yet it appears to be standing up completely by itself” Victor continued, looking up with the same open-mouthed expression.

Their heads turned to look at one another simultaneously and with a synchronised gulp they both nodded their heads and went to take a closer look.

The ladder itself wasn’t overtly remarkable on first glance. It merely looked like a standard wooden ladder that wouldn’t look out of place sliding along the shelves of a library. But on closer inspection the pair could see that carved on the wood was a plethora of intricate patterning like nothing either of them had ever seen. Concentric circles mixed with endless swirls next to what looked like diagrams of entire galaxies, complete with a multitude of planets and asteroid belts. Delicate looking flowers bloomed with passion whilst animals and creatures that were completely unknown on Earth seemed to be engaged in some eternal dance of splendour.

These patterns and drawings alone were enough to keep Harry and Victor in silent appreciation for what seems like hours. When finally they had seen all that their height allowed them to see of the engravings they sat down in front of ladder to think about what to do next. Both Harry and Victor were still so awe-struck by what was before them that they both needed a cigarette before they could even get their thoughts straight. After inhaling deeply from his, Victor finally managed to speak.

  “Well, there’s no doubt about it Harry, we have to climb it” Somewhere in his mind he already knew he had decided this as soon as they saw it. It was only now the rest of his brain had caught up could he say it with conviction. Harry however, wasn’t so eager.

  “Are you mad?! Look at that thing; the wood isn’t even that thick and what will stop us from falling, eh? No, no, no my friend, there is no way you will get me on that thing.”

“Oh come on Harry! Do you know how astronomically unbelievable this is? This literally defies the laws of physics as we know it, not once in the history of our race have we ever seen anything like this. And you’re telling me you’re not even slightly curious as to what’s at the top?”

“Of course I’m curious, who wouldn’t be? But-“ Harry’s voice trembled ever so slightly but Victor was far too incensed to notice, his mind couldn’t fathom the fact someone wouldn’t want to explore this miracle that lay before them.

“But what Harry? What in the world could stop you from wanting to know what’s up there?”

“Oh just fuck off up there why don’t you Victor. Leave me in peace for once” The tremble in Harry’s voice had been replaced by resentment. Resentment to Victor’s incredulity. No matter how clever he may be, Victor was never too good at reading emotions.

“Don’t be like that Harry, I didn’t mean anything by it” Victor’s brash demeanour had been dashed by Harry’s sudden change in tone and he sat down next to his friend with a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry Harry, it’s just all my life I’ve been waiting for something extraordinary to happen and here it is! Right before us, something unimaginable and wonderful has happened and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t find out what was at the top.”

Harry hung his head. Of course he was curious too about what lay at the top of the ladder but he couldn’t fight back the fear that had been brewing in his stomach since he first saw it. There was something about its impossibility that unnerved him. It didn’t feel right in his mind but he didn’t want to let onto Victor.

“I don’t know Victor, any number of things could be up there! Is it worth risking our own lives?”

“But just imagine what could be up there? It could be something that changes the course of our race for the rest of time, something so wondrous it could turn our world upside down! Surely this ladder is right here, right now so that we could find it. This is meant to be Harry!” Victor could tell his friend was scared and if he was going to be honest with himself he too was terrified. He was more terrified than he had ever been in his life. More so even than when he had lost his Mum in the supermarket when he was 4. But his desire for the unknown and mystical was too strong. Nothing was going to persuade him not to climb the ladder.

“Harry, this could be the one thing in our life that gives mine and your existence true meaning. This could be the thing that makes us. The universe has led us to this point in time and space for this exact reason. To climb that ladder and see what’s up there. If we were to walk away now we would live the rest of our lives wondering, never being able to forget that we missed an opportunity that could possibly be the most amazing thing that’s ever happened on the planet. Please Harry, come up the ladder with me.”

Harry looked up at Victor and he could see in his eyes how much this meant to him. A human can hide their emotions as much as they want, their face can be stone cold and their mouth can be straight but the eyes will always give it away. In Victors it was the slightest hint of a tear forming and when Harry saw it he knew he must embark on this adventure. Something about that smallest of tears filled him with determination to follow his friend to the end.

“Alright Victor, let’s do it. But I swear to God if I die it’s your fault.”

“Yes Harry! I knew couldn’t resist” Victor held his hand up for a high-five but Harry hesitated, before breaking into a grin and hitting the five back.

The pair turned around to face the ladder. It really was astonishing, a cloud from the upper levels broke free and they could just about glimpse it going even further than they realised into emptiness above. They both gulped but they knew there was no turning back now. With an overtly polite gesture to Victor, Harry stepped back to let his friend go first. Victor puffed out his cheeks and put his foot on the first rung, and then sneaking one more quick glance above him he started ascend. After he’d climbed a few metres he looked back down to Harry, who had just started to climb himself. No words were said; somewhere inside them they could feel that they had been meant to find the ladder together but that the climb would be a personal journey for the both of them. A test from the universe of their own nerve and steel.

The carvings on the wood got increasingly more complex as they got further up, there seemed to be some hidden thread throughout them that neither friend could understand. Some story of mystery had been woven into the wood. They seemed to move around the boy’s hands as they placed their palms against the wood, with a motion so fluid and natural the pair had to stop when something in particular would touch their very souls.

After nearly an hour of climbing Harry did something he’d been resisting for the whole journey. He knew he shouldn’t have because it would do no good, but that natural human desire to do something that you just instinctively know you shouldn’t was too strong. He looked down. As soon as he did, Harry could feel the determination that had been with him during the climb slowly drain away when he saw that the cows were beginning to look like ants far, far below them.

Victor hadn’t noticed what Harry had done so was already a few more feet ahead when he realised his friend wasn’t directly beneath him anymore. He too had to look down to see what was going on. Once he did he gulped, terror filling his lungs. For what felt like hours the pair stared down towards the ground, thoughts running through their heads almost as fast as their hearts were beating.

“Come on Harry, we can’t stop now.” Victor tried to inject some balance into his voice but every word came out trembling, even he couldn’t stay calm at the sight of how far up they were.

“I know Victor, I know.” And with that a wave of calm descended over Harry and he looked up for the first time again. Without further hesitation it was he who began to climb once more. Sometimes it takes the mind of someone who doesn’t spend their time dreaming of the future to be able to pull their focus back to the present. His hands gripped the ladder tighter than ever and his knuckles began to whiten but there was a grit in his determination that hadn’t been there before. He couldn’t have explained it himself but all Harry could think about was getting to the top, because there was certainly no going back now after seeing how far they had climbed.

Victor saw the look of assurance on Harry’s face and knew there was no stopping him. He had seen that look only once before, when Victor had challenged him to eat 20 Cream Eggs in 15 minutes.  Harry may have been violently sick but he still managed it and Victor could see he was going to manage this as well. Smiling slightly he turned back up himself and continued to climb.

Soon enough they had passed through the first layer of clouds. The pair had been vaguely wondering when it was going to start getting harder to breathe and whether the wind, which had felt strong on the ground, would buffet them about at all, however neither happened. In fact the pair couldn’t feel any wind hitting them at all but they could hear it. They could hear it all around them but that was it, it only seemed to be around them and even though their gulps of air grew larger as they grew wearier from the climb the air didn’t thin at all. Victor’s mind was alight with possibilities, perhaps there was some magic around them and the ladder, stopping them from coming to harm. That said he certainly wasn’t interested in finding out whether that magic extended to actually falling off.

The sun had nearly slipped fully behind the horizon but there was still enough light for the clouds below them to be painted a striking orange. All around them were clouds now and they wouldn’t have seen the ground if either had looked down again. But apart from that first time neither had risked a glance downwards, only upwards as their hands went one after another, from rung to rung with their feet following after.

Another cloud loomed above them and this one was deep and dark. As soon as Victor’s hair brushed the underside of it he could feel the water vapour already soaking him. He persisted on though and within seconds of being submerged he was drenched. He couldn’t see; the cloud was so dense it was almost heavy around him. The magic he had felt earlier seemed to have worn off and he even thought he could feel the slightest touch of wind on his arm. His hands were wet through and he had to fumble about in the darkness to find the next rung. It was getting harder with every step up.

Below him, Harry had gone into some sort of trance. He didn’t even realise how wet he was getting from the sinister cloud and his hands and feet were moving in automatic. One after another, step after step but suddenly his right hand slipped as he tried to close his fingers over the wood. Snapped out of his trance he shouted out in fear as he felt the fingers of his other hand slipping agonisingly slowly off the ladder. His heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest and tears began to flow from his eyes as he prepared to say a final goodbye to Victor.

Victor broke free of the cloud and found himself finally placing his hand on the last rung of the ladder. But as soon as he stopped climbing he felt a sudden change of direction in the air and his heart stopped. All his instincts were telling him something was wrong and he quickly descended back down into the cloud, just in time to see Harry’s grip on the ladder finally release. Victor threw his arm out and his fingers just managed to get a hold on the hood of Harry’s coat. Wincing in pain Victor gripped the fabric with all his life. Strength had never been his strong point and it took all in his power to keep hold of Harry long enough for him to get back on the ladder. Not wanting to risk another moment of such potential tragedy, they quickly climbed up out of the twisted cloud.

When they broke free they seemed to be standing on the very cloud itself. It didn’t feel like there was any hard ground beneath them, nor did it feel like floating. They just felt like every atom in their body had adjusted to let them cling to the almost weightless vapour. Neither had yet looked up at what was before them however, both still had their eyes to the spot they had just climbed out from. They caught the corners of each other’s eyes and nodded, knowing there was no need to say anything.

In perfect unison the two friends raised their heads at the same time and once their minds realised what lay before them, their faces broke into smiles bigger than the universe has ever seen before.

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Samuel Stevens. All rights reserved.

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